I met up with DESUAR Spa owner Deisy Suarez to learn how this former home-spa esthetician transformed a grassroots operation into downtown Los Angeles' largest day spa. On the day we met, downtown LA's busy farmers' market had DESUAR's block sectioned off to cars, so I hopped out of my Lyft, grabbed a green juice and organic berries along the way, and followed signs for the spa into a commercial building. I wandered down a flight of stairs and after turning a corner discovered what felt like a massive spa-speakeasy.
High, exposed and metallic ceilings, gently lit candles and Moroccan Thuya wood appeared throughout. I met up with Deisy in the relaxation room, where they serve tea and sparkling wine, where she handed me off to one of her colleagues for a massage on Deisy's favorite amenity - DESUAR's Himalayan Salt Bed. It was a dreamy treatment, in a gorgeous space that felt both totally urban and a million miles away.
Here is how Deisy built her dream spa:
Tell us about DESUAR Spa and how you came to the spa world?
"DESUAR Spa is a 4,400 square foot day spa located in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. We have eight treatment rooms, one of which includes a Himalayan salt bed, in which we offer massages, facials, scrubs, wraps, slimming treatments, waxing, spray tanning and soaks. Our style is speakeasy-meets-industrial with a Moroccan twist. Our goal is to provide the best relaxation and also cater to the diverse community of Downtown Los Angeles.
I completed my massage program certificate at the National Holistic Institute in 2010, then attended Marinello School of Beauty acquiring my esthetician license in 2011. I opened a “home spa” offering facials, skin treatments and other beauty services out of a room in my home. In 2015, the home version of DESUAR Spa grew too big to operate out of a small space, and I started looking for commercial space."
How did you know you were ready to make the jump into opening your own space?
"It was tough to find the right space and a landlord that was willing to take the risk and lease to me. My home business was flourishing and that’s when I began scouting for a bigger location, but I couldn’t find a landlord in Downtown LA who was willing to lease a space to a single, female Latina who had this dream of opening a spa. All they hear when I said 'spa' was 'massage parlor' and they just did not have interest in knowing more about it. It was around this time that I got married, and though he doesn’t have knowledge of the spa industry, with him in the picture, landlords were more receptive of renting to me. To some degree, at least with regard to obtaining a lease, my husband legitimized my business."
Did you raise money, or take it on solo?
"This has been a solo venture. I wanted to build my first spa without outside investors. My husband helped me build the spa, carrying wood and drywall up 12 flights of stairs, adding air conditioners, and finding water supplies. He secured business loans that he personally guaranteed, along with his pension and car to help get us the amount of capital we needed. We worked seven days a week, 12 or more hours a day to secure our new location and cover the crazy buildout costs. We were denied by the city three times for permits thus making the process more grueling and more expensive, but we did it."
How did you develop your clientele?
"From opening my home spa until now, I’ve always used the best products, found the best training, and have a true passion for what I do. I also posted ads in every local newspaper, dropped my menu to every Downtown LA building, attended and participated in every local networking event. We got our vehicle wrapped to advertise the spa, and I then spent many evenings driving around the local area, parking in strategic locations as a way to advertise. I encouraged my clients to leave reviews for me on every site; took advantage of any technology. Creating strategic partnerships with local businesses has also really served me well to this day. Relationships are very important. It is a challenge to get clients in the door but once I do, it is my goal to make sure they leave with the most positive impression."
How did you come up with the treatments?
"Coming up with spa treatments was the fun part! I traveled South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to soak in all that I could. I looked into everything, including a 700-year-old Turkish Spa in Downtown Istanbul with the 5" water bugs, to learn about spa culture across every culture. My dream was to offer the most effective healing treatments, no matter how far I had to go to find them."
What is your next goal for the spa?
"We have been blessed with an incredible therapist team, who we recruited using online posts and social media, who meet strictest standards of spa education and service. Now, with the team in place, I’m excited to soon introduce our own product line and open more locations nationwide and worldwide."
What advice would you have to any current therapists or spa managers looking to open their own facility?
"My number one piece of advice is to dedicate yourself to your craft by constantly studying and improving yourself. You must be dedicated and always learning. Our business evolves and grows so much every day and the only way to stay ahead is to be ahead. Surround yourself with good people who will encourage you and help you grow."